April 5, 1934- May 17, 2005- We Will Miss You Frank.
Born on April 5, 1934 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to parents Frank and Frances Gorshin, Frank was the oldest of three children. His father was a railroad worker and his mother a seamstress.
It was at age 12 that Frank found that he enjoyed performing. While attending Peabody High School, Frank worked as an usher at the Sheridan Square Theater. He found it was fun to do impressions of some of his favorite actors like: Al Jolson, James Cagney, Cary Grant, and Edward G. Robinson.
At age 17, Frank won a talent contest where the prize was a one-week engagement at Jackie Heller’s Carousel Night Club. Tragedy struck however, just two days before Frank was to perform. His younger brother, Herman age 15, was struck and killed by a drunk driver. His family insisted Frank go on with the show. It was hard on Frank but with his mother’s insistence Frank went on. Thus starting his show business career.
After graduating Peabody High School, Frank attended Carnegie Tech School of Drama. He also worked in plays and nightclubs throughout the Pennsylvania area.
In 1953, he entered the US Army. He was sent to Chelveston, England where he took part in a talent contest. He won the European All US Air Force talent contest and was eventually assigned to Special Services duty. He was sent all over Europe to entertain in service clubs and as part of the USO shows.
It was during this time that Frank met Maurice Bergman. A European representative of Universal–International Pictures, Bergman told Frank to look up movie agent Alec Alexander in New York when Frank got out of the service. It wasn’t long before Alexander was able to find a role for Frank in Paramount Motion Pictures’ “The Proud and the Profane”.
While visiting his parents in Pittsburgh in 1957, Frank received a phone call from his agent urging him to come back to California right away in order to film a screen test for the Clark Gable movie, “Run Silent, Run Deep.” After driving 39 straight hours Frank fell asleep at the wheel and crashed the car. He suffered a fractured skull and did not wake up until four days later in a hospital. He missed the screen test and lost the role to Don Rickles. Not only did he lose out on the role but he also found that Los Angeles papers had reported that Frank had died in the car accident.
Other movie roles did follow, however, such as MGM’s “The Bells Are Ringing” starring Judy Holiday and Dean Martin. Frank played the role of Blake Barton. He also had a role in, “Where The Boys Are” and co-starred with David Janssen in “Ring of Fire.”
Frank also appeared in various night clubs including Hollywood’s Purple Onion. This lead to five appearances on The Steve Allen show and twelve guest appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. He also had a re-curring role as a shore patrol sailor in the series Hennessy starring Jackie Cooper.
Batman the television series premiered January 12, 1966. The first episode being Hi Diddle Riddle. Frank appeared as the Riddler a role that would prove to be his greatest. With the success of Batman, Frank now found himself headlining in Las Vegas. He went on to make nine appearances as the Riddler on Batman and received an Emmy nomination for the role. He also went on to play the Riddler in the 1966 Batman movie.
Frank received a second Emmy nomination for the 1969 Star Trek episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” in which he played the alian Bele from the planet Cheron. On the planet Cheron, people are either black on the right side of their bodies and white on the left side, or white on the left side of their bodies and black on the right side. Frank gave an extremely convincing performance as a humanoid who harbors strong feelings about the white/black – black/white issue.
In 1970, Frank made his Broadway debut starring in, “Jimmy” a play based on the life of New York mayor James J. Walker.
Come 1972, he starred in ABC-TV’s show, “The KopyKats”. In 1978, Frank reprised his TV role as the Riddler for NBC-TV’s “Legends of the Superheroes”. He also appeared in various made-for-TV movies and miniseries including: “Stories From the Bible”, “Death Car On the Freeway”, and played a space villain in “Buck Rogers In the 25th Century”.
In 1980, Frank served as Honorary Chairman, Entertainment Division, for the American Heart Association. He also continued to appear in various movies including “Meteor Man” and “12 Monkeys” with Bruce Willis.
A new role for Frank….”Say Goodnite Gracie” was written by Rupert Holmes who grew up watching the Burns and Allen television series. The play is set in “limbo”. Before George Burns can move onto the “Big Time” and Gracie, George’s wife. He must audition for God. In other words, go through his life – from the lower East Side where he grew up within two blocks of the likes of: Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice, The Marx Brothers, Jimmy Durante, and Milton Berle. To laying in bed at the age of 100yrs, four months. The play mainly focuses on George Burn’s years with Gracie.
From the time Holmes started writing the play, Frank’s name was mentioned to play the role of George Burns. Holmes had seen Frank in such TV shows as Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen. He thought Frank’s impressions of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were amazing, along with Frank’s impressions of Alfred Hitchcock and Boris Karloff, not to mention Richard Burton. But Frank had never imitated George Burns. That is until Frank heard about the Burns project.